A SEPTA strike dashed her court-reporting dreams, so she worked her way up at the RDA until 1980, when layoffs left her jobless. That’s when old neighborhood pal Bob Brady, now leader of the 34th ward and doing what ward leaders do, came to the rescue, offering her a bartending gig at the Piccadilly Club, which he owned. After the RDA rehired her in February 1981, a bookkeeping position opened up, and Bob Brady came through again, writing her a recommendation, even showing her how they kept books at a gym he owned. Then in 1983, he asked her to manage his campaign office when he made his failed run for City Council. She was busy with work and cheerleading for the Eagles. But she fit it in. Anything for Bob.
“Bob helped people,” she says. “People would come into the campaign office and say, ‘I don’t know what to do about this bill or that bill.’ He’d say, ‘Don’t worry about it,’ and he’d pay the bill out of his own pocket. I saw it.”
It would be another 10 years before Bob asked Deb out.
A LOT HAPPENED IN THE MEANTIME: Bob’s political clout grew as he wrapped his beefy arms around post after post, including a spot on the RDA board. In 1986, when he became chairman of the Democratic City Committee, the backroom-broker, patronage–loving pol was on his way to becoming the most powerful man in Philly. Personally, though, things weren’t great. He and his wife Ellen separated, then divorced in 1992.
“Ellen was a very, very private person,” says one longtime family friend. “When Bobby decided to go into politics and become active, I think it was too much.”
Meanwhile, Deb kept inching up at the RDA. When she stopped cheering in ’85, she went back to Temple on RDA’s dime to study business. (She hated economics but got As “because I was gonna.”) After another big layoff in 1989, Deb kept the relocation and property management department chugging by herself, even finding new homes for all the businesses on Arch Street to make way for Convention Center construction. When the department directorship became available, she made the best case: “I’ve been running this department alone for years.”
Deb really didn’t think anything of it when, in 1993, Bob asked her to join him at a black-tie party: “He just needs someone to go with him.” It was a surprise 50th birthday party for Bob’s good old boy, state senator Vince Fumo, and she bought a fitted, sequined floor-length dress with the back completely cut out.
“A lot of people were making it out to be a date, and we were just laughing,” Deb says.
But Bob was no fool: “You know men. We’re always thinking, ‘Now this is a pretty lady.’”
“Bob’s with an Eagles cheerleader!” That’s what Mark Segal heard on the street. The publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News had known Bob since the ’70s and would eventually become, as Deb describes him, “my bestest friend.”
“Before Debbie, Bob had some rough edges,” Segal says. “Now those rough edges are gone.”
Deb is all round edges.